Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Man in The Middle

Steven Hunter is both a University of Minnesota regent and an AFL-CIO official.

We are in the midst of a strike at BigU. It is easy to sit around and make pompous declarations about how the world ought to be run, how Abu Ghraib is a scandal, Bush is an idiot, pop rots your teeth, whatever.

But some of us fairly ordinary people occasionally are placed in very bad positions from the ethical standpoint. Mr. B. can only be sympathetic and respectful of them.

From today's Strib comes the following excerpts:

Steven Hunter knew the third day of the dispute between striking clerical, technical and health care workers who are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees could bring his position as a regent into conflict with his day job.

Hunter's primary occupation is secretary/treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO. Before that he was the political action director in the state for AFSCME.

As a result, Hunter spent part of Friday morning trying to calm the protesters. In the process, he called for the university to return to the bargaining table.

While the rest of the regents left the room, Hunter stayed and talked to the students and activists.

"I know tempers are hot," Hunter said. "But let us do our best. There are regents on this board who support the cause. Keeping the board from meeting could cost some support."

After about an hour, the regents returned to the room and Hunter was given the floor. He urged the university to get back to the bargaining table with AFSCME for the first time since late Tuesday.

"We've spent a lot of time since I've been on the board focusing on getting it right in terms of benefits for our administrators and our faculty," Hunter said. "We know we have a problem competing for top faculty and administrators to do those jobs. That's appropriate because those people are the engine that drives this university towards our aspirational goals. But the support staff is the oil that lets the engine run. If you've ever tried driving a car without oil, you'll find out what happens.

"We have a problem right now. Our support staff is not happy, they're not working -- it's hurting them, it's hurting the university. It's a necessity to get back to the table."

While Hunter said he didn't think the university's offer to AFSCME workers would be enough to get a contract, he didn't offend Bruininks.

"He's in a very awkward spot," Bruininks said. "I think he spoke emotionally and passionately for what he thought was an important message and that was that we should get back together and work on these issues."

"We want to get this settled," Bruininks said. "We believe we have a fair offer out there, and we believe we have to run the university in a way that is responsible to all of its employees. That will be our position, and it will continue to be our position no matter what the level of noise is on the university campus."

Hunter is not the only one in an awkward spot. OurLeader is in no position to argue that money is not available to treat these workers fairly. And his position of no further negotiations is certainly contradictory to his statement that he wants to get this settled. Let's get off the dime, Dr. Bruininks.

One sad Bonzo